On Tuesday afternoon I was at Tate Britain in London for a meeting organised by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to discuss the honours system and how to increase the number of nominations for women in the arts and media. Lord Stevenson, who is Chair of the Arts and Media Committee which considers nominations from these sectors, chaired a fascinating session of presentations and discussion. He was joined by two other members of the Arts and Media Committee, Dame Jenny Abramsky and Dame Liz Forgan (“a gaggle of Dames?”) to talk about the quite shocking disparity between the numbers of nominations for male and female candidates for honours. Jenny Abramsky said “the honours system should be diverse, should be fair and should recognise what is going on in this country”. Liz Forgan said “the honours list is a very cheap, simple way of saying thank you to people”. She felt there was no shortage of potential nominees in the arts and media. Alison Bennett from the Cabinet Office, which oversees the honours system, explained that nominations are considered by eight expert committees (including the Arts and Media Committee). The Community, Voluntary and Local Services Committee (CVLS) accounts for around 40% of the honours list. Nominations are received directly from members of the public as well as via Government departments. Alison told us that women have never made up more than 47% of the overall list and the disparity was particularly bad in the higher level awards. In the 2012 New Year honours there were 7 Dames compared to 27 Knights. Within the arts and media nominations only 37% were for women (and only 33% were awarded). Pat Le-Bruin from DCMS said that it seemed that “everyone assumes someone else is doing something”. She emphasised that DCMS is happy to work with organisations planning to nominate someone, to advise them on how to create effective citations etc. We also heard from the playwright and critic, Bonnie Greer OBE, who spoke about how she had felt on being awarded an honour. She talked passionately about why she had decided to accept and said “if I can be awarded an OBE then everybody can”. It was a fascinating and inspiring session and certainly succeeded in enthusing me to look at what more we could do to encourage nominations for honours from the voluntary arts sector.
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